Monday, September 26, 2005

Former AACR Minister joins GSLP to fight next election

George Mascarenhas returns to politics • “the GSD has become drunk with power,” he says

by Brian Reyes

George Mascarenhas, a former government minister with Sir Joshua Hassan’s AACR and a veteran of local politics, has joined the GSLP (Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party) and plans to present himself as a potential candidate for the party at the next general election.

Mr Mascarenhas has been a card-carrying member of the GSLP since June and last week attended his first meeting as a party activist.

“I intend to return to active politics,” he told the Chronicle.

“My plans are hopefully to be a candidate [at the next election], but of course that is in the hands of the party.”

The move will come as a surprise to many, not least because Mr Mascarenhas has in the past been highly critical of the party led by Joe Bossano. Neither does Mr Mascarenhas hide the fact that he has publicly supported the GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats) in recent years – he said he voted GSD both in 1996 and in 2000 – though he never actually joined the party.

As an experienced politician who is clearly held in high regard, he also formed part of the External Affairs Advisory Council set up by Chief Minister Peter Caruana in 2001.

But Mr Mascarenhas left little doubt that he believes the GSD administration has lost its way on issues of fundamental importance to the local community. He decries the government’s extravagant expenditure, believes the latest low-cost housing initiatives amount to “too little too late” and describes the merger with Labour as “a disaster”. Above all, he has few complimentary words for Mr Caruana and repeatedly refers to “a clash of personalities” when he describes his past contacts with the Chief Minister.

“In my view, the GSD has become drunk with power,” Mr Mascarenhas said. “My political instincts tell me that the GSD is finished.”

“I think that the [GSLP/Liberals] alliance will win the next general election and I’m sure it’s going to be with a bigger margin than people are thinking.”

Mr Mascarenhas said he had spent the past three years mulling his options for a return to active politics. He considered forming a new party or joining the “now defunct” Labour Party, but those were two alternatives he quickly ruled out. In order to make a significant contribution, he concluded his only choice lay in the two major parties in Gibraltar.

“At the end of the day, my thinking and the GSLP thinking are nearer to each other than the GSD,” he said.

“I have now found that my natural home is the GSLP, as difficult as that might seem to a lot of people.

I have to be brave and I have to have the courage of my convictions, even if I’m going to be criticised, to do the right thing for Gibraltar.”

Mr Mascarenhas’ decision to join the GSLP is, in fact, something of a homecoming. He first started in politics by standing for election in 1976 alongside Mr Bossano and other candidates for the Gibraltar Democratic Movement, the predecessor of the GSLP. He was the GSLP’s first chairman, a post that he only held for a short period before he left to join the AACR in 1977.

He served as the AACR’s education minister under Sir Joshua Hassan, a post he held between 1984 and 1988, and then as a member of the House in opposition until 1992.

Even though he has not been involved as an active politician since then, Mr Mascarenhas remained a visible participant in local political debate. He made regular contributions in the broadcast and print media, as well as his role in the External Affairs Advisory Council.

The new GSLP member is bullish about his party’s prospects at the next election and about the role that he hopes to play. He believes his experience and reputation in the community will help regain some ground with voters in the centre of the political spectrum.

“The last opinion poll by Panorama put the GSLP ahead,” he said.

“I can say publicly today that my mission is to convert that lead into a landslide.”


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